Joe Schmidt will have breathed a sigh of relief ahead of his first game as Ireland head coach next weekend after fly-half Johnny Sexton remained an unused substitute for Racing Metro on Saturday night.
Sexton, called into Racing’s match-day squad for the Top 14 trip to Biarritz after an injury to Juan Hernandez, was due back in the Ireland camp at Carton House last night, but his chances of facing Samoa at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday will still depend on his condition after a 2,500km round trip on a weekend he was meant to have been rested after 12 games in 13 weeks with his new French club.
The positive for Schmidt will be the fact his star man was not subjected to a 13th game when the rest of his squad have played, at most, only six times this season, but the former Leinster boss said last week he was already concerned about Sexton looking “flat” when he first arrived in camp last weekend.
Schmidt was also due last night to receive medical updates on injured players Rory Best (ankle), Keith Earls (knee), Cian Healy (knee), Declan Fitzpatrick (calf), Robbie Henshaw (hip), Sean O’Brien (ankle), Mike Ross (hamstring) and Paul O’Connell (calf), having set a deadline of tomorrow on determining who will be available for selection for the first challenge of his tenure since succeeding Declan Kidney as national coach over the summer.
As O’Connell, 34, battles to pass fit for what would be his first Ireland appearance since March 2012, the Munster lock yesterday outlined his new regime, including being in bed by 10.30pm, to best enable him to play on to a fourth World Cup appearance in England in 2015.
“I suppose I resigned myself to the fact that I’m at a stage now where I need to specify my training and that’s what I’m doing and I’m feeling a lot better,” O’Connell said.
“I don’t do any of the weights that the other lads do any more. I mainly do my own specific stuff that suits my body and suits my injuries. I don’t train as much as some of the other lads anymore.
“In terms of playing, I think the big focus for me is to be at the next World Cup and to be in as good a shape as I’ve ever been.
“I’ll see after that about playing. It’s been a long time since I last played for Ireland. It’s been a frustrating period but I don’t think not playing international rugby for Ireland in that period is going to affect my performance.”
He also clarified he would never have left Ireland for France based on the player welfare procedures in place here, following a report in one newspaper which stated he was considering a move.
“I didn’t think I said anything different. but with Jonny [Sexton] going and with the talk at the moment of Jamie [Heaslip] and maybe Seanie O’Brien’s contracts, that was just latched on to. It meant I had a lot of questions to answer that week.
“Certainly I’m far better suited here. I’ve always said it that in the union’s structures Irish players are far better looked after.
“You get plenty of rests and particularly when you’re fit you get weekends off and from an S&C [strength and conditioning] point of view, both in Ireland and in Munster, we’re in a very good place.”
Meanwhile, O’Connell’s provincial coach Rob Penney has backed James Coughlan to receive the Ireland cap this month that he feels the No 8 deserves.
Speaking after Coughlan made a 20-minute appearance off the bench in Munster’s 12-6 win over Ospreys on Saturday, Penney said: “James has been in great form and I thought at the end the spark which he brought off the bench tonight was first class.
“There’d be nothing better than to see his name read out in one of these Tests coming up. He deserves it.
“He’s just given his life, heart and soul to this team over the years and it’s been a pleasure to work with him over the last 18 months.”
Schmidt is set to name his team to face the Samoans on Thursday.
Lancaster hails England effort
England coach Stuart Lancaster praised his side’s composure after their 20-13 victory over Australia at Twickenham.
Captain Chris Robshaw and fly-half Owen Farrell scored second-half tries as England overturned a 13-6 deficit.
Centre Joel Tomkins was making his full international debut, No 8 Billy Vunipola his first Test start and Marland Yarde his Twickenham bow.
He said: “You never know how youngsters playing for the first time at Twickenham are going to deal with the situation but I was delighted with their maturity.”
Lancaster also praised England’s overall defensive effort, despite the missed tackles that led to Matt Toomua’s first-half try.
“This is an Australia side that has been together since before the Lions tour and we have got a formidable challenge in Argentina, who have been together throughout the Rugby Championship.
“So we’ve got to roll our sleeves up, learn, improve on this performance and get another win.”
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